BAGHDAD - The ability to stay in touch with family and friends back home is a mission of priority for deployed Soldiers with the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team as they serve in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
That mission quickly became a personal responsibility for Spc. Cory T. Datrice of Opelousas, La., with Headquarters Company, 256th IBCT, in his attempt to assist his fellow Soldiers.
"Receiving personal mail is the biggest morale booster for deployed Soldiers," explained Datrice as he remembered a time when mail was not so easily obtainable. With three deployments under his belt, Datrice related stories of the excitement of receiving mail on his 2005 deployment to Iraq. "It was like children flocking to the ice-cream truck. There was so much mail that the driver just started calling out names."
In response to his previous experience with receiving mail, Datrice decided to become officially-trained in handling military mail at the Camp Liberty Joint Military Mail Terminal in an attempt to take care of the Soldiers from the 256th.
Datrice is now individually-responsible for carrying out mail duties for the 256th headquarters, along with four other units. Each afternoon, he takes a 40-minute drive to the mail terminal, waits his turn in line, loads the regular packages and letters, then makes the return trip to hold "mail call" twice a day.
Spc. Corey A. Aguillard, a facilities engineer, from Lake Charles, La., HHC, 256th expressed his appreciation for receiving two large parcels of mail handed to him by Datrice. "I was pretty excited. I finally got two packages from my wife after waiting on them for two weeks."
Mail may be a critical means of communication across the miles, but it is not the principal method of communication from Baghdad. Some Soldiers opt for obtaining a cell phone, but most choose not to take on the added expense. The majority of Soldiers elect to use internet services from their personal residences at a cost of $65 as their primary form of communication.
Having internet access on a personal level has made significant changes in the amount of communication interaction with home, as the members of Tiger Brigade are able to e-mail friends and family members through free services such as Yahoo! Mail, Gmail and Hotmail. Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace also continue to remain popular with deployed Troops.
Despite the numerous internet avenues that are available, Skype seems to remain the most popular form of communication with 256th Soldiers because of the availability of free video conferencing and reasonably-priced telephone services.
"I use Skype because when I connect with another person online, I can video, speak and type with them at the same time," said Spc. Lester P. Broussard of Lafayette, La., a logistics specialist from HHC. "My mom doesn't have a webcam, so I just talk with her over the computer."
To Spc. Amber M. Short, an HHC human resource specialist, also from Lafayette, visual interaction with her children is her main reason for using Skype. "It's easy to use and convenient and I love seeing the faces of my kids as I talk to them," commented Short.
The morale of deployed Soldiers is one of the main concerns for HHC Company Commander Capt. Daniel Fritts. "Communication back home is extremely important, not just for Soldiers, but also for those friends and family members in Louisiana," the Baton Rouge, La., resident said. "It is one of the biggest morale boosters for deployed Soldiers. It helps take the edge off from the stresses of deployment and helps the time go by much faster."
This work, Personal Communication a priority for deployed Soldiers, by SPC Amy Barber, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.